Paul Donovan is the chief operating officer at Gold Coast Airport and chairman of Gold Coast Tourism. Donovan outlines his view on what must be done to bolster this city’s key economic driver.

THE question I’m often asked is ‘what do we need to do to get our key economic, being tourism, driver back on track?’ My response is always the same. Tourism hasn’t fallen off the track at all. But the drive and determination by us all to remain focused and keep our eye on the ball is vital for our future success.

We have to be mindful that the effects of the GFC linger, with the ASX still 20 per cent off the mark, our building sector still oppressed and our financial institutions nervous on lending.

Recent figures have shown that we have strong competition from other destinations, most notably Melbourne, which for the first time has rated as the most preferred holiday destination by Australians, in a recent study by Roy Morgan research. A year ago the two cities were equally popular, but Melbourne’s popularity has been increasing over the past 12 months. In March, 21 per cent of Australians said they would like to take a holiday in Melbourne in the next two years, while 19 per cent nominated Gold Coast.

We have to keep the Gold Coast on the domestic radar – Australians increasingly want to holiday overseas and as a result many domestic destinations have lost appeal for Australians. At present, Melbourne seems to be the exception, having lifted its preference level over the past decade. Melbourne is renowned for its events, cultural attractions, shopping, café society, and fine dining.

We have tourism product from Coolangatta to Sanctuary Cove with dedicated tourism marketing activity from entities including Connecting Southern Gold Coast, Broadbeach Marketing and Surfers Paradise Alliance and, of course, Gold Coast Tourism bringing it all together.

We must be the masters of reinvention – we must highlight to travellers, domestic and international like, why they simply must return to experience our delights all over again.

We must rid ourselves of the shiny place/shady character syndrome and continue to make our city as safe and secure as possible. And we must continue to invest in our city through infrastructure development. A world-class destination needs world-class transport links.

From a promotion and marketing perspective, Tourism Australia (TA) is back on track. With a new board, new management, a new brand and a fantastic new marketing campaign tapping into real experiences, the product Australia has to offer will once again resonate with visitors around the world. Tourism Queensland and Gold Coast Tourism are also releasing new brand campaigns later this year and we will be working with TA to bring a collective marketing effort together.

By 2020, the economic value of tourism in Australia will double, but the Tourism Australia budget for 2010/11 will be $18 million less than it was in 2009/10. Here, Tourism Queensland continues to have year-on-year funding cuts. It just has to stop.

Come August 21, we need the Federal Tourism Minister, whoever that may be, to put their weight behind this industry and demonstrate with real actions, not just words, how that government will fight for the biggest industry in Australia.

We must continue to encourage big events and big business to come to the Gold Coast. We just saw the fantastic success of the Gold Coast Airport Marathon with a record 23,812 competitors taking part. Very positively the State Government promoted this event as a prelude to the Commonwealth Games bid – an initiative we must all get behind to secure this major event.

We must ensure we support our local council and councillors. They need the reins to do their job and if that means sourcing ideas internationally, then so be it. If we think they are going to find all the answers here, the answer is they cannot.

Tourism remains the backbone of this country, employing directly and indirectly more than one million people. Australia’s $90 billion tourism industry is a critical part of the national economy. If the industry is to grow and remain sustainable in the long term, there is much work to be done. We must continue to push for reform to ensure Australia and the Gold Coast not only retains but increases its share of the world tourism market.

To quote a recent marketing campaign, there really is nothing like it, the Gold Coast. And there is really nothing like Australia.

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